Today we had been railroaded into taking a trip with one of the guides from our hotel. This was more one of those things that you find yourself on the receiving end of rather than actually wanting to go but there you go. We needed a translator to say ‘No’ in Cambodian. We were to be going on a moped tour today and I would once again be risking life and limb on the back of a moped whilst Liz would be on the back of our guide’s moped. After meeting us at reception our guide assured us about the safety of riding a moped here but for me it would have been much better if he had simply warned everyone else on the road instead and, if possible, removed some of them from the road or at least ask them to stay inside!
Anyhow off we zipped and the first obstacle we had to overcome was the square outside the hotel, the place where just the night before we had observed the Cambodian version of Death Race 2000 take place (Gulp!). Although possibly not recommended, I put my successful traverse of the town square down to me keeping at least one eye closed at all times whilst praying and/or venting expletives, as I said, my way is not recommended for everyone!
We went everywhere in the locale and visited everything there was to see, first up was a bit of a ride out of the town to Aek Phnom. To get there we had to ride along a road that was still in the process of being constructed. Well it seemed to be almost in the process of being constructed as there were no workers to be seen. The mud the road was presently made out of had been ‘flattened’ so it was quite an interesting journey by moped or so I thought in-between my screams! An added difficulty to my moped riding inadequacies was the amount of grit and sand being driven up by the wind but I actually did not think that ‘not being able to see’ was a disadvantage so instead I opted to ‘use the force’! Aek Phnom temple when we got there was part temple and partly a jigsaw of a temple, it must have looked some place in its heyday but this was not it. However, some of the lintels above the doorways were still in good condition and showed off the amazing craftsmanship but as well as the damage caused by the Khmer Rouge a recent tremor has also wreaked havoc on the site. Not all of the site had been affected as the large Buddha statue nearby still looked in good condition and it looked as though the authorities were taking ongoing steps to renovate the place which is always good to see.
After our temple stop, we remounted our faithful chargers and sped off to a place by the main road where they were making rice paper discs. It was an entirely handmade process so was very involved but also very interesting to see and it often seemed somewhat dangerous so here we also stopped to have a bite to eat – some fresh and some fried spring rolls both of which were absolutely delicious and as good as their Vietnamese counterparts. Continuing on the food theme we then stopped for a brief stop at a fish paste making place, here they were drying out the fish outdoors by the roadside. Many fish, many flies. The place definitely had a ripe smell about it but no-one besides ourselves really seemed to care, however it was all we could do not to plug our noses! Not really sure what we would have used, possibly yak dung!
Next up a brief stop at another Wat this one had a large burial barge standing in a ‘garage’ building by the side of it. The Wat itself was very colourfully decorated and once again in the paintings there are a lot of vivid sky blues, reds and golds and the decoration was itself very intricate but we did not stay around for a great deal of time before we zoomed off again. This time we stopped off at another roadside eatery selling sticky rice in bamboo. Good thing we had how to eat it explained to us by our guide as the bamboo simply looked black and charred. All you had to do was split the bamboo and scoff away and it was all very nice and tasty if also hugely filling and after it, it was two much heavier travellers that got back onto our mopeds. Good thing we never jumped aboard as the tyres would have come under some serious pressure and possibly would have given way!
We then rode through some glorious countryside to Wat Samrong, which as well as being a Wat also had the somewhat dubious distinction of also being a ‘killing field’, a place where people were literally ‘culled’ by the Khmer Rouge. The reliefs in the monument were most graphic showing the gruesome details of what had happened to the victims and in the pagoda were skulls and bones of the victims themselves, entitled ‘The Well of Shadows’. In the nearby field 10,008 people were slain, somewhat sobering to think about that on such a brilliantly sunny day. `
By now it was getting close to lunchtime so the guide took us for a whistle stop tour to Prasat Bassaet temple but after this he took us to have a stop a good while longer at the guide’s parent’s house to dine on yet more sticky rice but this time served up in banana leaf, oh the stickiness of it all … lol. We were introduced to a few of the guide’s family and Liz went off round the back to see their pigs. All in all it was quite a nice vibe though next up was a trip to a winery for a tasting session. Now coming from England a country that is not exactly synonymous with wine production my first thought was that it would be interesting to try Cambodian wines, that is until I actually tried them! Rather than trying to squeeze the goodness from the grapes, the business seemed more intent on squeezing the money from the tourists. Not that the tourists were the only customers as some locals also seemed ready to part with their hard earned cash but although I am not a wine buff by any stretch of the imagination I could not even taste many of the wines that were on offer! Still who knows, in a few years they may have me eating me words producing great wines but I am not entirely convinced lol.
Our next tourist stop was the area’s most famous ‘must do’, the Bamboo Train. If you do have a look for this attraction on the net you may also come across reviews saying that the ride would most definitely be illegal in both Europe and America – enter at your own risk! And to be fair the warnings are a fair assessment of what is on offer here. The ‘train’ consists of a flatbed bamboo truck with a little wind up engine running on track that has seen better days albeit through some very nice countryside, which sometimes makes up for the fear factor you find yourself feeling most of the trip (Lol). There is a less advertised issue with the Bamboo Train though and that is what happens when you come across a train going in the opposite direction on the single track! Well, at this point one of you, usually the train with least passengers, has to give in and move all of their ‘truck’ off the line so the other (lard-asses) can pass through. The problem here though was that there was only the two of us on our train so we were the ones who had to keep getting off and moving our train off the rails. This happened on a good number of occasions too and after a while it became both repetitive and quite tiring to boot. Whilst I started merely flagging, Liz started to get well peeved by this and like our little train her dander was up. Still finally we actually got up a head of steam and ended up at O Sra Lav, the wee village at the end of the line that you can have a wander round a bit whilst the local children ask you if you want to see a snake (!) but even going at the slowest of strolls it still only took us five minutes before we were round back at the ‘station’ for our return trip to O Dambong but this time we had to dismantle our truck a lot less making our return trip much easier on our bodies.
Once back, our guide did not seem to have missed us much, so we climbed back aboard our trusty mopeds and all set off once again. This time back over the river once more via a rope bridge which was quite a first for me on a moped, then onwards to a few trees where fruit bats nested. They were huge and every now and again one would take off and go for a bit of a fly about and their wingspan, well I tried to find out how big it was but after a whole ‘in depth’ five minute search, could not find the information I was after – thanks Messrs Google and Friends but here are a couple of interesting facts I did find – the Fruit Bat is said to have the best overall vision of all bat species. They also have very long tongues that they unroll when they are feeding and when they aren’t eating the tongue rolls back up. It is tucked away internally around the rib cage rather than remaining in the mouth! – not sure what to make of that last bit!
Well after our first ‘bat stop’ of the day we rode alongside the waterways of the countryside to Banan Temple. There were quite a few tourists about this temple and the climb up to the temple proper was steep to say the least, I have climbed ladders which were easier to ascend! The stone steps were chipped and uneven and this meant in places you had to hold onto the stair rail to stay upright. The hilltop was surrounded by trees and it was a bit difficult to get a view from the hill but every now and again you could see how high up you were. The temple and its shrines were very interesting and we had a goo look around but whilst up there we came across a Buddhist monk who seemed very clued up with his Apple taking snaps and gave me a big smile as I took a photo of him – top monk!
Still no time to stop as it was onwards again but to our final temple of the day – I had no idea there were so many things to see round Battambang. For this one we were going to be taken up by professional moped riders so we parked at the bottom in a car park and transferred to sit behind our new charges then up we went. The road up to Phnom Sampeou to see the temple and the killing cave was perilous in itself. We soon enough reached the killing cave where victims were simply pushed down a hole to fall to their deaths there was definitely nothing subtle or forgiving about the Khmer Rouge. Whilst here we saw a memorial to the victims that was made up using their bones. The temple and shrine were quite amazing, however so were the ferocious monkeys guarding the place and they had attitude. Whilst up here, in between photo stops, our guide decided to have a snack from one of the stalls up here – this consisted of larvae and black beetles mmmmm yummy – so strange enough, we decided to try them. Not quite the ordeal that we thought it would be. The larvae things actually tasted like crab so not too bad at all but the black beetles were quite a bit of a chore, those things are made of armour and you have to chew through that in order to get to the meaty goodness inside which is not all that great to tell the truth. I felt afterwards that I had used more energy chewing than in the actual consumption of the insides – now if that could catch on …
This was still not the end of the day, I told you it was a full one, we were next off to the Bat Cave – bat stop number two! A cave in the side of the hill from which the bats emerge as the Sun goes down, millions of bats fly forth taking ages but it really is quite a sight seeing them setting off outwards and upwards. They go out to hunt mosquitoes and I for one saluted them as they went by, go good bat-friends and please do well in your hunting, cull those bloodsucking vampires! And that was it, this had been the final act of the day, well almost, if you leave out almost getting killed on the moped ride home … argh! The trip home in twilight was nerve racking to say the least and I simply had to trust to my God (whoever the hell that is!) to guide me across the many busy crossroads that barred our way on the way home – this totally shredded me emotionally but finally I made it home. At one point in this nightmare I seem to remember I was waiting for Liz and the guide by the side of the road, simply sat quivering astride my ‘ped’ but we made it home, we finally made it home.
Well although it had been a great and a very full day and, especially after the trial and the hardship of the ride home, we decided that on the night we had earned the right to eat at the Skybar. This place overlooks the river which we expected to have to pay Sky-high prices for but it was not at all pricey and yet served some very good food (and beer) to boot, a most welcome end to what had been a most excellent day.